Yesterday, UTA hosted its annual Transit Academy workshop. Transit Academy is designed for local and state elected officials and other community leaders to learn more about regional transit and transportation.

This year’s event, which was attended by about 100 people, took place at UTA’s Jordan River Service Center (JRSC). JRSC is where UTA maintains its newer S-70 TRAX fleet as well as conducts overhaul activities for its older TRAX vehicles.

The half-day event featured several workshops including a Q&A with UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson and a session on the role metropolitan planning organizations play in developing the regional transit system. Transit Academy participants also had the opportunity to tour the JRSC facility, including the shop floor, and drive a TRAX train. The event also offered a morning keynote by Juliette Tennert, Director of Economics and Public Policy at the Kem Gardner Policy Institute regarding transportation’s role in vibrant economies.

One of the most popular sessions at Transit Academy was a special panel presentation that included Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee Senator Gregg Buxton, Chair of the House Transportation Committee Representative Mike Shultz, Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne and UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras. The panel was moderated by Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

The panel focused much of its discussion on the need to plan for the future when it comes to transportation, especially in the face of booming population growth. “We need to set the right policy today and be proactive so quality of life remains high,” Representative Shultz said. “We can’t double the size of I-15, that’s where transit comes in.”

Senate President Niederhauser discussed the role land use plays in developing transportation infrastructure. “It all boils down to land use,” he said. “Before we can really deal properly with transportation, we have to deal with density. We absolutely cannot land on where we should be with transportation without dealing with land use.”

Niederhauser also said that local and state governments need to be united on this issue in the face of huge population growth. “If we don’t, we may have to face unbelievable gridlock on our roads,” he said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when dealing with land use, but in 10 years the Salems and the Benjamins will be the Herrimans of today. Now is the time to plan, and if we do it right, we can improve our quality of life.”

Senator Buxton echoed this sentiment. “Double decking I-15 will be the reality,” he said. “We need to be able to move things through our communities, and if we can’t move things, companies will stop coming. These are big issues we need to work on incrementally.”

Braceras talked about how Utah’s advantage is its strong population growth. “Companies are looking for a well-educated and good workforce, but underlying this is that things have to work including transportation. Transportation is connections. If it works well, people forget it exists,” he said. “Growth can be an opportunity or a challenge. Transportation can improve the quality of our lives.”

Senator Mayne noted that huge population growth is taking place on the west side of Salt Lake Valley today. “Herriman will grow by 17 percent in 20 years,” she said. “Mobility is a concern, so neighborhood bus service is important.”